Women are underrepresented in STEM fields. While various initiatives have tried to change this, women are still less represented in certain science and engineering fields compared to men. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has determined that they comprise 39 percent of chemists and material scientists, 28 percent of environmental scientists and geoscientists, and a mere 16 percent of chemical engineers.
Such reasons are partly why Danielle Applestone stands out so significantly. As the CEO and cofounder of Other Machine Co., she’s developed the Othermill, a high-precision desktop CNC mill that aims to revolutionize manufacturing at various different levels. Impressively, half of her company is female, including engineers, bucking a common trend within the industry.
With the launch of the firm’s newest product — the Othermill Pro — last week, we talked to Applestone to find out about her passion for science, and to learn more about the issues facing women in technical fields.
“I always was driven to science and building things. I also loved to cook, bake and make jam. But every field has a huge wealth of ‘technical’ information, whether it is oil painting or music theory,” Applestone said. “There’s always another layer deeper and richer in any discipline. In my case, I grew up with the support of my family and teachers. There was never a question of whether or not I ‘should’ study engineering or rebuild engines though. I was just supported no matter what.”
Being around such a supportive network no doubt proved helpful as she worked her way up in the field.
“I definitely had some struggles. Though, for me, as a tall and more physically-imposing woman, I feel like I’ve had it easier than many of my other female colleagues,” she said. “I am at peace with the fact that sometimes things are harder for us, and I don’t waste time wondering if I missed [an] opportunity due to my perceived gender.”
Before launching Other Machine Co., she ran a DARPA project to develop digital design software and manufacturing tools for the classroom. Once the funding ended, she took the technology and launched the firm.
As Applestone points out, it’s hard to raise money for any startup, especially a hardware startup, regardless of gender. She was comparatively lucky to have the support of her managers and bosses, but there were still issues of peers at work not being used to a woman asserting themselves. Something that she’s pleased to get past.
“It seems that women get involved in STEM subjects, and then they leave. They leave because the culture is oppressive and they don’t get enough support in the other aspects of their lives like family,” Applestone said. “Do I continue to go to work at this place that doesn’t respect my ideas or listen (and where I’m one of only 2% women), or do I stay at home and spend more time with my beautiful children? It just stops being worth it.”
It’s potentially a tricky discussion to have, but Applestone considers it something that needs to be talked about openly.
“The only way to improve things is to keep noticing, keep acknowledging the old patterns, and do a little bit every day to support the choices that women make – whether to stay in STEM or leave.”
It’s not just something that relates solely to women, either. Men need to be given more choices in life, too.
“We need to support men who defer to their partner’s careers,” she says. “It needs to be widely accepted and respected that this is a great option and not a sacrifice — it’s just a choice that is great for their families.“
As illustrated by an appropriate graphic, the key, she notes, isn’t to aim for equality but to work toward equity. Equality means giving everyone the same thing, with that only working if we all start from the same place. Equity focuses on the idea of giving access to the same opportunities for all – a notable difference for those who need more of a helping hand to achieve their best.
Having worked her way up within the field, Danielle Applestone set out to launch Othermill. The team wanted to build safe, desktop-sized manufacturing tools for a high school classroom.
“The idea is that if you want students to be able to design and build things, you need to give them real, professional tools,” she says. “This way, we could raise up a generation of people that could make an idea into a real solution all without leaving their garage or classroom.”
The firm has just announced the Othermill Pro — a more advanced version of the conventional Othermill. While the original remains perfect for a classroom environment, the company learned it wasn’t quite right for more full-time professional use.
“Some customers had grown in their capabilities and wanted more out of their machine,” Applestone says. “[The Othermill Pro is] faster, quieter, and more precise. It is our answer to all the engineers who needed a higher-grade product in order to justify bringing their PCB and small metal parts prototyping in-house.”
That’s reflected in the price with the Othermill Pro offering a RRP of $3,199 compared to the Othermill’s $2,199 price tag. Right now, though, it’s possible to pre-order the Pro variant for $2,699. It promises that you’ll be able to go from an idea to a PCB prototype within minutes, speeding up the process for many manufacturers. Even better, no specialist training is required.
It’s a refreshingly open approach to something that could be excessively complicated and intimidating to many. By being exactly that, it’s the perfect example of Danielle Applestone and Other Machine’s ethos of bringing STEM fields to all that are interested, not just the elite few.
If you’re interested in pre-ordering an OtherMill Pro, or purchasing an OtherMill, you can do so on Other Machine’s website.